Android has always been known and praised for its ability to be customized. One of the most popular elements that users love to tinker with is the Launcher; the face of the phone that greets you once unlocked. Over the years, developers have provided us with many options, including Nova, Apex and my personal favorite: Action Launcher. There are of course countless others that add their own styles, tricks, functionality, and gimmicks.
Companies have taken notice of this trend and have been dipping their feet with custom Launchers of their own. Your screen is very valuable real-estate after all. Getting an app or a widget on a home screen is a major win for any developer. So why stop with a few app icons, when you can take over the entire user experience and pimp your brand. This what Facebook, Nokia and Yahoo have tried to do with their Home, Z and Aviate launchers respectively. But all three failed to deliver anything intriguing. For the most part they miss the point and remove functionality to introduce some gimmick. Microsoft is the newest contender, and it looks like they are about to repeat the same mistake.
Let’s be fair and mention this is still a beta product so any final judgement or full review should be reserved for the final release; if there ever is one. Arrow Launcher is the name of what Microsoft is developing to replace your stock phone interface and it does… very little actually. Being sold as another “smart” launcher like Aviate, Arrow is supposed to simplify the way you use your phone by putting your most important apps and contacts front and center, while allowing easy access to the rest. The problem I’ve had with these launchers is they only complicate my experience.
Constantly jumbling my apps in an attempt to guess what I will based on time, location and habit, usually leaving me digging for what I require. I know very well what apps I rely on the most, and prefer to arrange them, always knowing where they are when I need them. And here, the Arrow Launcher fails spectacularly.
The entire launcher is comprised of three screens: Recent Contacts, Recent Apps, and Notes/Reminders.
The left pane displays the people you have contacted recently, date, and the method used (mobile, email, sms, etc). The middle panel is broken down into Recent Apps at the top; Frequent Apps underneath and a user-customized row at the bottom. Although apps can be removed from any three actions, only the bottom row allows you to add apps of your choice; the Recent and Frequent sections update automatically. There are no widgets and you can only create folders in that bottom row. The right screen holds your notes, tasks, and reminders. You can add new ones, star them, assign alarms and check them off ass you go. There is also a senseless counter at the bottom showing how many you have completed/checked-off in total.
Swiping up from the bottom on any screen shows another row of commonly used apps and access to recent contacts; a rather confusing layout choice. Long press on an empty area of the screen as you would with most launchers and you are shown a menu to jump into Wallpapers, Settings, Feedback, and Launcher Settings. And finally there is the alphabetically sorted and labeled App Menu with search.
And that’s it.
So why am I hardly enthusiastic about this? Well for starters, I don’t understand the need to remove functionality. Not everyone uses widgets and folders; but those that do, like myself would dismiss Arrow immediately. Secondly, I don’t understand why the Notes and Reminders section needs an entire one third of the whole launcher when apps like Keep can do a lot more within a smaller widget. Why do Recent Contacts need to appear in two disjointed ways? Why do the two Recent Contact lists show discordant information (see photos)? Why bother changing a handful of icons, creating an inconsistent appearance? And finally there is the aforementioned “smart” element that completely misjudged how I use my phone; putting a number apps I barely touch at the forefront. For example: I have a lot of applications. Which means I frequently get updates. The launcher assumed that since the Play store runs so often, it must be an app I voluntarily open and use frequently. It did the same with a number of other programs, including Pushbullet and an Android Wear watch-face. Meanwhile, Gmail, Inbox, Hangouts and Google+, which get non-stop daily use, are missing? How is that even possible?
I know that companies are always trying new things, and that’s fine. But if you’re going to be spending time and money developing something, shouldn’t you strive to make it better than what is already available. Arrow Launcher (so far) is a worse and more hampered version of what we already have in every single way.
If still want to take Arrow Launcher for a spin there are two ways:
1) Join the beta group by submitting a request to the Arrow Launcher Beta community on Google+
2) Download and install this APK: Microsoft Arrow Launcher APK
Let us know what you think about Arrow Launcher and what your favorite third party Launcher is in the comments below or on Twitter and Google+Source: PhoneArena
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